What is Red Wine?
Red wine is made from the black grape varieties. Unlike white wines, the skin is used in fermentation. Most dark grapes have clear flesh, producing greenish-white juice. The process of saignée or ‘bleeding’ involves leaving the dark skins to ferment in contact with the pulp. This adds both colour and flavour.
A second fermentation, called malolactic fermentation, usually takes place with red wine. During this process, tart-tasting malic acid in the juice is converted into softer-tasting lactic acid.
The most well-known red wines produced in New Zealand and Australia include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon and blends, Shiraz or Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir.
Red wines age longer than white wines. Quality reds will cellar well over time, developing complexity with age. Tannins soften and earthy, cedar and leather notes develop. Colour changes from intense violet when young, to brick red when mature. Older wines can be quite brown.
Cabernet Sauvignon: this is the primary varietal used in Bordeaux-style wines. Cabernet is bold and powerful. Common descriptors include cassis (blackcurrant), cherry and mulberry, bell pepper (capsicum), herbs, mint, cigar box, earth and chocolate.
Shiraz or Syrah: warmer climates produce fuller-bodied, riper styles. Cooler climate examples are more elegant. Descriptors include plum, blackberry, pepper, spice, hints of violets, chocolate, coffee, mint, leather and truffles.
Merlot: is known for its softness and fleshiness. The main characteristics of Merlot are plum, cherry, mulberries, mint and dark chocolate, with old leather, herbs and sweet tobacco.
Pinot Noir: is a more delicate wine than other red wine varietals. Soft, gentle tannins give Pinot Noir its unique silky mouth feel. Pinot Noir can display notes of cherries, wild strawberries, raspberries, vanilla, earth, forest floor, truffles and spice, and gamey, meaty notes.
Pairing with food
The diversity in red wine allows for pairing with a range of foods. Rather than simply matching red wine with red meat, matching strengths produces better results. Most reds go well with barbecued or grilled red meats such as beef, lamb and sausages, as well as pizza, tomato-based pasta dishes and Mediterranean grilled vegetables. Big and bold, Cabernet goes well with rich red meat dishes like ragout. Cabernet matching approaches perfection with a fine cut of perfectly cooked steak. Shiraz goes extremely well with game such as venison and kangaroo. Merlot is a solid all-rounder, while Pinot Noir pairs well with game fowl and oily, fatty fish like salmon.
Notable regions for Red wines
New Zealand - New Zealand is most famous for its world-class Pinot Noir that can rival the best from France. Key regions are Central Otago, Martinborough and Marlborough. Hawkes Bay’s Gimblett Gravels is New Zealand’s stand-out producer of Cabernet, though Waiheke Island is known for its high-quality examples. Most of the country’s Syrah and Merlot is also produced in Hawkes Bay.
Australia - South Australia’s Barossa Valley produces many of the country’s famous blockbuster reds, enjoying huge international success with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
Australia’s finest Cabernet comes from Coonawarra. Margaret River also produces stand-out examples. Excellent Merlot is made in South Australia’s Limestone Coast, as well as Margaret River. Australia’s most notable Pinot Noirs come from cool climate Tasmania.
France - The title of the best red wine is unusually a competition between the prestigious French wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy. While the premier wines of Bordeaux are numerous, the red wines of Burgundy compete at the very top. Bordeaux reds are Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Reds from Burgundy are primarily made with Pinot Noir.